"Alfie" and Me

Posted by M ws On Saturday, August 6, 2011 2 comments
In 1965, Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote one of their most beautiful songs that has truly taught me LOTS about love, life and people.Throughout my life, the song has given me fresh insight and meaning at different points of time and experiences. I have always been a Burt Bacharach fan but somehow, this song truly resonates with me so deeply that it is quite impossible for me to listen to it without being moved to tears. In fact, this is the third time I am writing about this song (check HERE) which has also been recorded by Cilla Black, Cher and Dione Warwick.



Wikipedia gives a concise background to this song:

Although Burt Bacharach has cited "Alfie" as his personal favorite of his compositions, he and Hal David had not been very interested when approached by Ed Wolpin, who headed the composers' publishers Famous Music, to write a song to serve as a promotional tie-in with the upcoming film Alfie (a release from Paramount Pictures who owned Famous Music). Hal David would attribute the composers' disinterest to the title character's name being pedestrian: "Writing a song about a man called 'Alfie' didn't seem too exciting at the time."


The composers agreed to submit an "Alfie" song if they were able to write a worthy candidate so named within a three week period. When Bacharach, resident in California, was shown a rough cut of the film Alfie the quality of the film's depiction of a Cockney womanizer played by Michael Caine instilled in Bacharach a dedication to writing a complementary song and as Bacharach felt - in his own words - "with 'Alfie' the lyric had to come first because it had to say what that movie was all about" [1] he arranged for David - in Long Island - to receive a script of the film to facilitate writing the lyrics for an "Alfie" song. David utilized one of Michael Caine's lines in the film: "What's it all about", as the opening phrase for the song's lyrics which when completed were set to music by Bacharach.

I know. I am such a hopeless sentimental romantic. But I have to say that even though the song only shot to fame in 1967 after Dione Warwick sang it, I still prefer the following version sung by Burt Bacharach himself. Of course the composer would be the best one to interpret how the song is meant to be sung/played and so emotionally too! Almost hesitatingly, poignantly and yet with doses of wisdom and sincerity reverberating through the notes played on the piano and the haunting tone of his voice....

His style is so engaging because he sings in a half-speaking, half-singing manner, pausing at the right places to make us think. And when he builds it up to the climax of the song, the burst of energy echoes the determination in his beliefs and conviction in what he is singing.

In a very strange way, this song reminds me of Rudyard Kipling's "If". There is much innocence, empathy in the way he reaches out to us to reassure us that he understands and empathizes with us for what we are going through...

Unlike other songs, "Alfie" makes me think - so much about life. The closure of the song is done to mirror the doubts, uncertainties in life. When writing this post, all I did was to keep listening to it, and to hammer on the keyboard my responses and reactions to the lyrics, and to his tender voice that still carries that air of innocence despite his years. Oh...what a beautiful song sung in such an innocuous style that few can replicate.

The song was written for the movie 'Alfie' starring Michael Caine. This site says:

It's hard to imagine now that anyone else could have been Alfie, yet it was a role Michael Caine almost didn't play, as Paramount executives originally wanted Caine's former flatmate, Terence Stamp, who was the Broadway lead in the original play. In fact, Caine claims that "the role was turned down by every actor in England". But director Lewis Gilbert persuaded them to take a chance with Caine and he rewarded them with a performance of astonishing confidence and conviction.


There's not a lot of plot, as Alfie is, above all, a character study and Caine breezes through the film, charming the women and the audience in equal quantity. His straight-to-camera confessions were a revelation at the time and, although such a conceit is commonplace to modern cinema-goers, they are still refreshingly candid. Despite being rooted very deeply in the Swinging Sixties, the issues of the film - love, betrayal, unwanted pregnancy - are still very much current.


The film often has to cope with large swings in emotion, combining humour with pathos. In fact, it's a testament to Gilbert's skill as a director that the scenes with Denholm Elliot's abortionist, though harrowing, are not totally at odds with the light-hearted tone of the first half of the film, but serve to underline the moral of the tale.
To me, the song asks the very questions that I have always been asking for decades! Indeed, what is it all about? Do we live for the moment? Where is the bigger picture of life? Is giving better than receiving? Where do we draw the line? After all the questions are asked, Bacharach gives us an unexpected jolt to reality with a most unusual reminder that it is wise to be cruel.

And then he goes on to sing about what I truly believe in my life - I believe in love and in true love. And we can find love, if we really try. Enough of my sentimental rants...


ALFIE

What's it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What's it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give
or are we meant to be kind?
And if only fools are kind, Alfie,
then I guess it's wise to be cruel.
And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie,

What will you lend on an old golden rule?
As sure as I believe there's a heaven above, Alfie,
I know there's something much more,
something even non-believers can believe in.
I believe in love, Alfie.
Without true love we just exist, Alfie.
Until you find the love you've
missed you're nothing, Alfie.
When you walk let your heart lead the way
and you'll find love any day, Alfie, Alfie.

Click HERE for Barbara Streisand's definitive version of Alfie or HERE for Cilla Black's Live recording of Alfie (which I find rather rough) and OVER HERE for the ORIGINAL Alfie sung with so much haunting sadness by Cher!!

2 comments to "Alfie" and Me

  1. says:

    edward Dear MWS,

    I first heard Burt Bacharach/Hal David's compositions at a friend's place in Singapore. I was hooked right from that point in time. Seeing that, my friend bought me 2 of BB's hit albums at that time - "Reach Out For Me" and "Make It Easy On Yourself". That was almost 4 decades ago. Since then I have collected over 60 of his Lps and Cds. God willing, I hope to attend one of his concerts soon.

    I have the book "Song by Song" by Serene Dominic, touted as the ultimate B Bacharach reference. In it is a whole write-up on the song "Alfie". If you like I can share the article with you. An excerpt from it...

    "...forces the listener in effect to become Alfie for a few minutes to contemplate issues of kindness, cruelty and higher beliefs. It is for this reason that people have such an emotional response to this song. Hearing "without the love you've missed you're nothing" at a particular vulnerable time can be devastating to one's psyche. This is one song people have been known to pull over the side of the road and weep unashamedly to when it comes on the car radio"

    Blessings.

  1. says:

    masterwordsmith Dear Edward

    How lovely to hear from you again! Yes, I do remember that you are also a Bacharach fan. What a glorious collection you have amassed through the years!

    Thank you so much for sharing that moving excerpt from "Song by Song" by Serene Dominic. I must get my hands on that book one day.

    What she wrote is spot on - even reading it evokes an emotional response!

    My cousin is going for a BB concert soon - i think in San Francisco - and like us, he is a die-hard fan.

    Take care, Edward - and let the music of BB play on in your heart and your life.

    Do keep in touch. Always a pleasure to hear from you. Hope to see you soon!

    God bless!

    Warmest regards to you and yours from us all in Penang

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